Phenomena

Eroding Ice

Ridges form on a calved iceberg due to differential melting.

When glaciers form, they do so in layers, with clear blue ice sandwiched between sediment and air-bubble-filled white ice. Because each of these layers absorbs sunlight differently, they don’t melt evenly. The spikes and ridges seen in this ice formed because of this differential melting between layers. The blue ice is particularly good at absorbing visible wavelengths of light, and so erodes more easily than the other layers.

Although the results look somewhat similar to the penitente ice seen at high altitudes, the formation mechanisms are a little different. Penitentes rely heavily on sublimation — where their ice and snow change directly into a gas — rather than the melting seen here. That said, both eroded forms depend strongly on how different layers within them absorb and scatter sunlight. (Image credit: J. Van Gundy; via EPOD; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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